Weekend links 545

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Colour wheel from The Natural System of Colours (1766) by Moses Harris.

• The Vatican’s favourite homosexual, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, receives the ludicrously expensive art-book treatment in a huge $22,000 study of the Sistine Chapel frescos. Thanks, but I’ll stick with Taschen’s XXL Tom of Finland collection which cost considerably less and contains larger penises. Related: How Taschen became the world’s most famous erotic publishers.

• “In a metaphorical sense, a book cover is also a frame around the text and a bridge between text and world.” Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth on what a book cover can do.

The Night Porter: Nazi porn or daring arthouse eroticism? Ryan Gilbey talks to director Liliana Cavani about a film that’s still more read about (and condemned) than seen.

What is important about reading [Walter] Benjamin’s texts written under the influence of drugs is how you can then read back into all his work much of this same “drug” mind-set; in his university student days, wrangling with Kant’s philosophy at great length, he famously stated, according to Scholem, that “a philosophy that does not include the possibility of soothsaying from coffee grounds and cannot explicate it cannot be a true philosophy.” That was in 1913, and Scholem adds that such an approach must be “recognized as possible from the connection of things.” Scholem recalled seeing on Benjamin’s desk a few years later a copy of Baudelaire’s Les paradis artificiels, and that long before Benjamin took any drugs, he spoke of “the expansion of human experience in hallucinations,” by no means to be confused with “illusions.” Kant, Benjamin said, “motivated an inferior experience.”

Michael Taussig on getting high with Benjamin and Burroughs

• “Utah monolith: Internet sleuths got there, but its origins are still a mystery.” The solution to the mystery—if there is one—will be inferior to the mystery itself.

After Beardsley (1981), a short animated film about Aubrey Beardsley by Chris James, is now available on YouTube in its complete form.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XXIII – An Ivy-Strangled Midwinter by David Colohan.

Charlie Huenemann on the Monas Hieroglyphica, Feynman diagrams, and the Voynich Manuscript.

Katy Kelleher on verdigris: the colour of oxidation, statues, and impermanence.

• A trailer for Athanor: The Alchemical Furnace, a documentary about Jan Svankmajer.

All doom and boom: what’s the heaviest music ever made?

• At Strange Flowers: Ludwig the Second first and last.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Krzysztof Kieslowski Day.

Ralph Steadman’s cultural highlights.

• RIP Daria Nicolodi.

Michael Angelo (1967) by The 23rd Turnoff | Nightporter (1980) by Japan | Verdigris (2020) by Roger Eno and Brian Eno

Weekend links 540

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A century before William Burroughs: The Wild Boys of London (1866). No author credited.

• “Acid, nudity and sci-fi nightmares: why Hawkwind were the radicals of 1970s rock.” I like a headline guaranteed to upset old punks, even though many old punks had been Hawkwind fans. As noted last week, Joe Banks’ Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is now officially in print, hence this substantial Guardian feature in which the author reprises his core thesis. Mathew Lyons reviewed the book for The Quietus.

• “Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti each explored Pan-Africanism and diasporic solidarity their own way before their meeting in 1979.” John Morrison on the Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti collaboration, Music Of Many Colours.

• “In 1938, Joan Harrison read a galley of Daphne Du Maurier’s masterpiece. She wouldn’t rest until she had the rights to adapt it.” Christina Lane on Rebecca at 80, and the women behind the Hitchcock classic.

Each page features a distinct moment, seen from one perspective on the front, and from a diametrically opposed angle on the back, occasionally pivoting, for instance, between interior and exterior spaces. This organizing principle is complicated by the fact that a given image might be a depiction of the physical environment surrounding the camera or, at other times, a photograph of a photograph. Midway through, the scene is inverted such that the volume must be turned upside-down to be looked at right-side up. The result is an elegant, disorienting study in simultaneity that allows the viewer to enter the work from either end.

Cover to Cover (1975), a book by Michael Snow, has been republished by Light Industry and Primary Information

• At Public Domain Review: The Uncertain Heavens—Christiaan Huygens’ Ideas of Extraterrestrial Life by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.

• Penny Dreadfuls and Murder Broadsides: John Boardley explores the early days of pulp fiction and what he calls “murder fonts”.

• The lesbian partnership that changed literature: Emma Garman on Jane Heap, Margaret C. Anderson and The Little Review.

The 10th Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition is now open to entries. (Titter ye not.)

• Death Barge Life: Colin Fleming on Gericault’s grim masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…The Grand Grimoire: The Red Dragon (1702).

Music To Be Murdered By (1958) Jeff Alexander With Alfred Hitchcock | Murder Boy (1991) by Rain Parade | Murder In The Red Barn (1992) by Tom Waits

Weekend links 527

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Poster art by Bob Peak.

• Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film of Peter Shaffer’s Equus receives a limited blu-ray release by the BFI in August. Richard Burton’s performance has always received a mixed response (I’ve never been in the anti-Burton camp) but the film is serious and well-made. And, as with The Offence (1973), there’s the thrill of seeing Lumet turn his attention away from his beloved New York City to examine British lives.

• “Astronomer claims to have pinpointed date of Vermeer’s View of Delft.” Yes, but how long did it take Vermeer paint the view? Speaking as someone who used to paint a lot, I’d say two or three days at least. Then there’s that awkward thing known as “artistic licence”…

• “I was taken aback by the antic side of Borges. He was irreverent, funny, insistent on his ways, and brilliantly talkative.” Jay Parini on Jorge Luis Borges, and his experience as the writer’s chauffeur in the Scottish Highlands.

• Strange Islands: Benjamin Welton on a favourite cinematic micro-genre I explored here a few years ago: the mysterious tropical island that’s a home to fearsome beasts and outsized (often deranged) personalities.

Greydogtales on The Sapphire Goddess of Nictzin Dyalhis, the Weird Tales writer with a name like a character from one of his stories.

• “I came for the giant phalluses and stayed for the joy of being a gay person.” Eight artists on the influence of Tom of Finland.

Tamsin Cleary on Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) which she calls “the world’s most demented haunted house film”. It really is.

The Gone Away, a short film by Sean Reynard for the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly.

Moorcography: the beginnings of an online Michael Moorcock bibliography.

• “Our sound engineer got a death threat”: Andrew Male on Olivia, a lesbian record label.

Bajo el Signo de Libra explores the art of Aubrey Beardsley.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Day.

The secret drawings of Great Britain’s UFO Desk.

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 is here.

The Four Horsemen (1971) by Aphrodite’s Child | All The Pretty Little Horses (2004) by Coil | When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves (2018) by Dylan Carlson

Tom’s World

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The celebratory stamps produced by the Finnish postal service in 2014.

A post for Touko Valio Laaksonen, the man known to the world as Tom of Finland, born 100 years ago today. Back in March I finally acquired Tom of Finland XXL, a gorgeous, heavyweight Taschen volume edited by Dian Hanson, as a result of which Tom and his leather-clad muscle-men have been in my thoughts even without his anniversary. The thick-necked hunks that populate Tom’s drawings have never been my ideal of masculine beauty but I admire his dedication to erotic obsession as well as his draughtsmanship, the latter even more so after seeing the high-quality reproductions in Hanson’s collection. The drawings from the 1970s and 80s are especially impressive, when success had given the artist more time to spend perfecting his figures and capturing all the ways that leather apparel folds itself and reflects the light. His beautiful pencil renderings of jackets, trousers and boots treat their subjects to the careful scrutiny that Dutch still-life painters used to devote to pheasants and apples; this is a fetishist’s infatuation raised to the status of art.

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Leather duo (1963).

Tom of Finland’s progress from amateur pornographer to gallery artist and national institution is a very unlikely career path, especially when he wasn’t dependent on the support of the art market. Tom’s earliest drawings and comic strips were relatively simple things but still explicit enough for the Finnish authorities in the 1940s to find them obscene. Many erotic artists have been subject to similar opprobrium but none of them have achieved posthumous fame as the most internationally visible male artist from the nation that once proscribed their work, and all this without toning down that work in any way. Tom shares his celebrity with Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which means that Finland is now the only nation in the world whose art is represented internationally by a gay man and a lesbian. Their work, needless to say, could hardly be more different, despite both artists being adept at black-and-white illustration and the creation of sequential narratives. Jansson’s Moomins have been universally popular for many years but Tom of Finland’s art, which has never been anything other than gay pornography, is inevitably limited in its appeal. The lavish depictions of cock-sucking and anal sex are so profuse and unrelenting that whatever is shown of his drawings in the general media is always carefully selective, shunning the enormous penises in favour of a moustached face or a pair of embracing clones.

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I’m amused by this and also reassured that there are still a few aspects of human life that are too anarchic for exploitation by mass media. The global domination of American culture and American technology has rendered everything grist to its all-devouring mill, everything, that is, except for explicit sex. Pornography is also a part of the US cultural behemoth but it’s like the bastard child that everybody pretends doesn’t exist and wishes would go away. America’s gay publications gave Tom of Finland his nom de plume and made him famous, but porn, for a variety of reasons, resists universal acceptance and approval. Tom’s art is so single-minded in its representation of gay men gleefully fucking each other that there’s little about it that can be exploited by cultural products intended to appeal to the widest audience, or sold to nations with repressive attitudes to gay sex and sexuality. Tom’s libidinous leather-clad hero, Kake, ejaculates his way through multiple penetrations and gang bangs the likes of which you’ll never see in a big-budget franchise, no matter how much Hollywood teases audiences with more polite same-sex scenarios. How many erections are a paying audience prepared to swallow?

Continue reading “Tom’s World”

Weekend links 510

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• Saul Bass’s cult science-fiction film, Phase IV, has received a very welcome (Region B) blu-ray release from 101 Films. Everything is a metaphor for the unavoidable just now, but a film about a group of scientists besieged by a tiny and insidious biological threat can’t help but have additional resonance. The new release includes the original (and seldom seen) cosmic ending plus another disc containing several of Bass’s short films. Previously: Directed by Saul Bass.

• Music at the Internet Archive: Live at Metro (2007) by Sora, and three rare cassette releases by French synth-rock duo Fondation: Metamorphoses (1980), Sans Etiquette (1980), and Le Vaisseau Blanc (1983).

• Mixes of the week: a Manu Dibango (RIP) mix from Aquarium Drunkard, and Industrial Synth Rave Isolation Mix by Moon Wiring Club.

We must talk about Nightwood. The novel that sits between those early and late phases of her writing life, the tale of Felix Volkbein, Robin Vote, Dr Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O’Connor and many others, caught between world wars and each other, in the decadent cities of Europe. The novel follows the journey of Robin Vote, who is more “earth-flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness” than person. Sleepwalking through life, she nonetheless wakes up her fellow characters Nora, Felix and Jenny, who each try and pin her down, to no avail. It is a novel that defies synopsis. It is unsurprising that this remarkable book has attracted a “burgeoning body of interpretations”, as Tyrus Miller here notes; yet it seems that there are still new ways to approach it. Julie Taylor offers an affective reading, for example; Joanne Winning concentrates on Nightwood’s collaborative origins, exploring the fruitful and often overlooked creative relationship between Barnes and her partner, Thelma Wood. This is not just a case of considering that relationship as source material for the novel, but unpacking what Winning describes as their “lesbian modernist grotesque”. It is particularly welcome that Winning treats Wood as a silver-point artist in her own right.

Jade French reviews Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism

• Ben Beaumont-Thomas on where to start with Kraftwerk, and Jennifer Lucy Allan on where to start with Alice Coltrane.

• The BBC’s Culture page discovers Tom of Finland but can’t bring itself to show much of his artwork.

• The art of Asterix: illustrator Albert Uderzo (RIP) at work.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on “a marvel of clockwork ingenuity”.

• The films Wes Anderson is watching during isolation.

Greydogtales on six more strange tales that linger.

Adrian Searle‘s favourite online art galleries.

• The Ghost Box label is now at Bandcamp.

Twin Flames (Edit) by Lustmord.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Flamboyant.

Phase By Phase (1976) by Peter Baumann | Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert… (1995) by Earth | Phase Draft (2003) by Bill Laswell